FREE e-Newsletter
Important News - Hot Topics
Get them Now!

Criminal Justice Degrees - Columbia Southern University
Let Columbia Southern University help you change your community with an MBA in...

Features

Is Contact and Cover Dead?

This two-officer technique used to be a cornerstone of patrol training and tactics.

July 13, 2018  |  by Steve Albrecht

The function of the Cover Officer is to provide cover and a force presence that sends a message to the subject or any other people nearby that he or she is there to watch over and protect the Contact Officer. (Photo: Getty Images)
The function of the Cover Officer is to provide cover and a force presence that sends a message to the subject or any other people nearby that he or she is there to watch over and protect the Contact Officer. (Photo: Getty Images)

The tactical concept known as Contact and Cover did not start with me. But I co-wrote the first book on the subject in 1992, with San Diego Police Detective Lieutenant John Morrison, a few years after my article of the same name first ran in the April 1989 issue of POLICE. Nearly 30 years is a long run for anything, police tactics especially, but maybe it's time to call the idea done. If not dead, then at least "modified to death" by academies and trainers who have reinvented it as something else. More on that in a moment.

Lt. John Morrison, Sgt. Chuck Peck, and other post-Vietnam combat era and post-race riot 1970s cops at the San Diego Police Department were the founders, trainers, and explainers of Contact and Cover. I happened to come along in 1984, when we had just lost two SDPD officers in one shooting incident that September, and then again, when one was killed and one wounded in May 1985.

Morrison wrote and narrated the SDPD video re-enactment of the first shooting, which happened in a place called Grape Street Park. In the early 1990s, that video soon became a common training tape for local, state, and federal agencies across the country to show and train with. I watched it recently and smiled to see Shelley Zimmerman, who just retired as the chief of police in San Diego after a stellar 35-year career, playing the girlfriend of one of the shooting suspects in the video.

As a brief review, the Contact and Cover concept is simple to understand and easy to train. In any field or correctional situation with one or more uncontrolled subjects nearby, one officer/deputy/trooper/ranger acts as the Contact Officer, handling all the business of the contact. This includes talking to subjects, patting them down, writing anything, and directing the subject's movements. It includes searching the subject's car or belongings, and talking on the radio. It includes handcuffing, searching, and moving the subject.

The function of the Cover Officer is to provide cover and a force presence that sends a message to the subject or any other people nearby that he or she is there to watch over and protect the Contact Officer at all times, including intervening with deadly force if necessary. The Cover Officer should position himself or herself in such a way to see or hear what is happening with the encounter, but not too close to be seen as butting in or trying to overly intimidate the subject.

The Cover Officer does not step into the conversation, search other companion subjects who are with the first subject, talk on the radio, fill out citation forms, or search the subject's car. The Cover Officer can provide information the Contact Officer may have missed.

In any field or correctional situation with one or more uncontrolled subjects nearby, one officer/deputy/trooper/ranger acts as the Contact Officer, handling all the business of the contact, including cuffing. (Photo: Getty Images)
In any field or correctional situation with one or more uncontrolled subjects nearby, one officer/deputy/trooper/ranger acts as the Contact Officer, handling all the business of the contact, including cuffing. (Photo: Getty Images)

The Contact or Cover Officers can switch roles if applicable, in situations where one officer speaks the subject's language, has previous experience with the subject, or has other training or knowledge which would make him or her the best choice as Contact Officer. The Cover Officer covers while the Contact Officer contacts. Or so we thought, when we wrote the book that described the approach 25 years ago.

So what happened? Why does Contact and Cover seem to have faded into obscurity? Since I travel the country teaching active shooter workshops, I talk to a lot of cops. When I mention Contact and Cover, I hear a variety of statements about it:

"What's that?" (Really? Never heard of it? As Trump would say, sad.)

"The recession hit our staffing hard. We just don't have manpower to do that anymore. We barely have enough cops in the field every shift." (Doesn't that mean your remaining officers really need to watch out for each other?)

"We were taught that in the Academy, but I don't think we do it anymore." (How could the concept have de-evolved out of use at your agency?)

"I tried talking about it once with our neighboring agencies and they didn't know what it was." (Didn't you all attend a regional academy together? Was it not taught there?)

"We took it out of the Academy curriculum because we have so many other newer topics to cover, like diversity, crisis communications, and dealing with mental illness with our homeless." (So officer safety takes a backseat? Isn't patrol the backbone of every agency?)

"We do a 'modified version' of Contact and Cover." (Which is coded language for: "We speed it up, separate the officers, and try to do more work by taking our eyes off each other.")

Although our "Contact and Cover" book went out of print a few years back, you can still find copies selling for as much as $500 on websites. I have a few copies on my shelf for the sake of nostalgia. I taught my half-day Contact and Cover training class for decades across the country, until demand trickled down to nothing. I kept the domain name but closed the website for lack of interest. I still get a few emails each month from patrol officers or training offices, thanking me for helping them understand the concept. For that, I'm grateful.

When I first moved to Colorado Springs in 2016, I sent a letter to all 200-plus law enforcement agencies in the state, explaining the Contact and Cover concept, describing my book and training class, and asking for a response. Total number of responses to date: zero. After three Colorado sheriff's deputies were killed in the line of duty in the first two months of 2018, I contacted the Colorado Association of Chiefs of Police and offered any of my six police tactical books to any chief who wanted a copy—for free. Total number of responses to date: zero.

Please don't misinterpret my message as an old-guy rant about wanting to go back to the good old days or lamenting why people won't buy our book. John Morrison and I just wanted all cops to have a long and safe career. We believed in Contact and Cover way back when and we believe in it now.

As Bruce Springsteen put it in his 1982 song "Atlantic City," "Everything dies, baby, that's a fact. But maybe everything that dies someday comes back." Here's to hoping that Contact and Cover is still in full use in your agency.

Steve Albrecht worked for the San Diego Police Department for 15 years. His books include "Albrecht on Guns," "Patrol Cop," "Streetwork," "Contact and Cover," and "Tactical Perfection for Street Cops." He can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @DrSteveAlbrecht.


Comments (10)

Displaying 1 - 10 of 10

Lawrence McGervey @ 7/20/2018 5:11 AM

I am a 29+ year member of Cleveland , Oh PD. Our academy still teaches contact and cover.
I have been in patrol for my entire career (with the exception of some short term details). I find contact and cover to be vital for officer safety.
I sincerely hope that it is not dead. I have been to way to many police funerals.

Todd @ 7/23/2018 5:30 AM

I'm retired (2017), with 26 years experience. In many places today, we see a rejection of winning principles, in combat. Was your force "necessary," by our standards? We, who do not face "tense, uncertain, and rapidly evolving." Politicians in blues and browns either are not technically competent, or for political reasons, don't desire to emphasize fundamental principles. It is not convenient for careerists. I believe contact and cover is a fundamental principle. It says much about the crisis of leadership in our beloved profession, if Chiefs or Sheriffs are not putting this on the agenda for their training academy. My agency's trainers clearly cared whether their people lived or died, and consistently put out, to prepare us to win. The problem is a crisis of leadership. Not a few of those leaders who are supposed to care whether those in blues or browns liver or die, really don't. Oh they talk a good game, but look at their decisions, their actions. Talk - can be - cheap.

John @ 7/28/2018 7:41 PM

26 year veteran here, still on the streets at an East Coast agency. Still practice contact and cover every day. I am appalled to read that it seems to be "going away" in our profession. How many lives must be lost to relearn the same hard lessons again? Sad article to read. Thank you, gentlemen, for the work you did to keep us safe.

Dave M. @ 7/29/2018 7:37 PM

Great job here article slow things down when possible. Always a second set of eyes focused and observing. Safety & Security First! Thanks Dave55

Craig Hunter @ 7/31/2018 3:31 PM

I train with an entity in Phoenix. We are learning Small Unit Tactics, Active Shooter, Scenario-Training (CCW-oriented), TCCC, Breaching, Rapeling... and Force on Target/RolePlayer/Force (Stress Inoculation). And we always, Always, ALWAYS 'provide Security' when another is doing anything, including deciding whereNwhen to actually breach a door. In our GroundCombatSchool type of training (2D weekend) if you 'throw a grenade', even if you get it into the 'target box', if you did not call for Security alongside, throwing bullets downrange for cover, you got NO POINTS.

Always SECURITY FIRST... my goodness, what in the world is wrong with MOST PoliceDepartments and their Quote/UnQuote "TRAINING"?!?!

Thanks for fighting the good fight.

Mark @ 8/1/2018 1:39 AM

First, thank you for caring. Contact and cover is NOT being practiced. In my agency, we lost one officer and another nearly was murdered in one incident. From what I saw, they were too close and both were making contact. The other murdered officer was solo on a traffic stop right on front of HQ. No partner to watch his back, and was shot twice in the head.

In my heart of hearts, I truly believe that if the contact and cover was done properly, they would be here today.

I have 22 years on and tactics by the newer officers plain suck . When I try to explain, they have a Know it all attitude. Can't wait to retire.

David @ 8/4/2018 5:04 AM

I taught contact and cover to all of our officers up until the day of my retirement, (35 years street work). Many of the officers killed and injured each year stems from the lack of mindset and good tactics. Your work was greatly appreciated.

Geoff Anderson @ 8/6/2018 5:00 AM

Steve, I teach the Arrest and Control program for the State of Connecticut POST Police Academy Basic Training - at Meriden, CT. I can't speak for other academies but your program is alive and well in Connecticut and we thank you for it. This tactic absolutely saves lives and will continue so with our program. From street encounters to domestics we teach recruits how to use this skill and in follow-up conversations, it works fine even with dwindling amounts of cops on the street. Thank you once again.

Rod Gregg @ 8/11/2018 8:21 AM

In almost all shootings that occur during a traffic stop or subject contact, you typically see on video that the shooter is waiting for the opportunity when the officers are distracted by another subject or the subject's movement towards a gun can be shielded by their body from both officers. When I learned it, we used the "L" formation to avoid crossfire when possible. I hope your message gets out and officers get back to the best practices of officer safety.

Tim @ 8/20/2018 7:25 AM

I am a former Police Officer and now train Security Officers for highly secured facilities. I teach Contact and Cover in our Academy because it save lives! I will continue to teach Contact and Cover, until I retire. If our Police Departments across the nation are not teaching this concept anymore, they are making a mistake that will cost Police Officer lives. Thank you for bringing the concept into the profession.

Join the Discussion





POLICE Magazine does not tolerate comments that include profanity, personal attacks or antisocial behavior (such as "spamming" or "trolling"). This and other inappropriate content or material will be removed. We reserve the right to block any user who violates this, including removing all content posted by that user.

Other Recent Stories

´╗┐When You Work for a Jerk
Who among us hasn't worked for a jerk and found ourselves dreading the moment we had to...

Police Magazine